Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp)
Christian Vande Velde is another North American hopeful for Garmin and will start the race with a crack at leading the team into the mountains. Like Ryder Hesjedal, he was part of Garmin’s winning team time trial squad in the 2011 Tour de France and this year’s Giro d’Italia. He was a critical helper in Hesjedal’s 2012 Giro campaign, and goes into this year’s Tour as an alternate contender for Garmin. With a block of rest and an altitude camp in Boulder, Vande Velde should be on even better form for the Tour, which has been his main objective throughout the season.
He finished a career-best fourth overall in the 2008 Tour and, like Bradley Wiggins after his own breakthrough in 2009 — also with Garmin — Vande Velde looks to 2012 as his year to perform once more. The Illinois native and son of U.S. cycling fixture John Vande Velde, Christian was one face of Garmin’s three-man 2011 teams classification hunt, working hard in the mountains to maintain the special number plates for the squad after he lost a shot at the final GC podium in an early split.
A career domestique at U.S. Postal Service and CSC, Vande Velde cautiously transformed into a GC rider at Garmin in his first season in argyle. Vande Velde was comfortable in his previous role, having played a part in Lance Armstrong’s 1999 and 2001 Tour wins and grand tour podiums for Carlos Sastre and Roberto Heras. But Garmin’s TTT win to open the 2008 Giro — earning Vande Velde the first American maglia rosa in two decades — was his coming out party.
Publicly, he starts the Tour this year as a helper for his Canadian teammate, but as Sky found out in last year’s Vuelta a España, good legs can up-end any rider’s role in a grand tour team.